It's not the UN Security Council that decides whether military action in Syria is right or wrong

Why do so many still suggest that Russia and China should determine our foreign policy?

The position of those who oppose military action against Syria is understandable as is the position of those who support it. What is unfathomable is the position of those who support or oppose intervention based on whether a UN Security Council resolution can be obtained.

That the US, Britain, France, China and Russia agree (or disagree) on an act does nothing to tell us whether that act is ethical, prudent or sensible. Yet politicians continue to surrender their independence of mind to this anachronistic and unrepresentative institution (Britain and France, with 60 million people each, are represented, while India, a country of 1.2 billion and the world's largest democracy, is not). In its statement on Syria, UKIP declared that "any intervention must carry with it a full mandate from the United Nations rather than a desire by western nations to meddle abroad." Labour has similarly suggested that "consideration by the Security Council" is an essential pre-condition for military action. To which the appropriate response is: why should the Stalinist bureaucrats of Russia and China determine our foreign policy? 

After arguing ten years ago with those who claimed the Iraq war would be justified if a second UN resolution could be secured (does anyone now believe they were right?), I had hoped that we now recognised the Security Council as the irrelevance that it is. But on the basis of today's evidence, the old delusions still persist. 

The UN Security Council meets regarding Syria on August 30, 2012 in New York. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Who will win the Copeland by-election?

Labour face a tricky task in holding onto the seat. 

What’s the Copeland by-election about? That’s the question that will decide who wins it.

The Conservatives want it to be about the nuclear industry, which is the seat’s biggest employer, and Jeremy Corbyn’s long history of opposition to nuclear power.

Labour want it to be about the difficulties of the NHS in Cumbria in general and the future of West Cumberland Hospital in particular.

Who’s winning? Neither party is confident of victory but both sides think it will be close. That Theresa May has visited is a sign of the confidence in Conservative headquarters that, win or lose, Labour will not increase its majority from the six-point lead it held over the Conservatives in May 2015. (It’s always more instructive to talk about vote share rather than raw numbers, in by-elections in particular.)

But her visit may have been counterproductive. Yes, she is the most popular politician in Britain according to all the polls, but in visiting she has added fuel to the fire of Labour’s message that the Conservatives are keeping an anxious eye on the outcome.

Labour strategists feared that “the oxygen” would come out of the campaign if May used her visit to offer a guarantee about West Cumberland Hospital. Instead, she refused to answer, merely hyping up the issue further.

The party is nervous that opposition to Corbyn is going to supress turnout among their voters, but on the Conservative side, there is considerable irritation that May’s visit has made their task harder, too.

Voters know the difference between a by-election and a general election and my hunch is that people will get they can have a free hit on the health question without risking the future of the nuclear factory. That Corbyn has U-Turned on nuclear power only helps.

I said last week that if I knew what the local paper would look like between now and then I would be able to call the outcome. Today the West Cumbria News & Star leads with Downing Street’s refusal to answer questions about West Cumberland Hospital. All the signs favour Labour. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.